Monthly Archives: May 2008

Cliff Swallows make it to the carnival!

Chestnut-backed-Owlet2.jpgThat is, the 75th edition of the blog carnival I and the Bird, which features my musings from last weekend’s visit with the cliff swallows on the Fresno State campus, among a bunch of other interesting readings pulled together by Amila Salgado at Gallicissa . Let me welcome those of you readers who have come here for the first time following the link from the carnival; and to my own layabout students who drive by here on a more regular basis, I say: go read all the other good stuff in the carnival! I am also excited somehow that my writing has ended up on a Sri Lankan birder’s blog – although that made me wish I had something a bit more south Asian to offer. I do have some things I’ve been working on from India that I may blog about here in the near future. Once I’m done grading the finals… And am back from presenting a paper at the Urban Biodiversity & Design Conference in Erfurt next week!

And sometime later in the year you will likely find me playing host to this carnival in this very corner of the blogosphere!!

The beauty of experiments

Another great interview from the Colbert Report on scientific knowledge and the trouble when we “junk it up with thought” — with George Johnson, the author of “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments” — and in this one they actually replicate Michael Faraday’s experiment to create electricity, live in the studio, on camera! Now how many other nighttime comedy talkshow hosts offer you real live science like this?


I also think we have to worry for future interviewees after this, for who knows what new superpowers were added by that jolt of current to Colbert’s already electric personality?!

Why can’t we let Cliff Swallows nest on campus buildings?


These past few days, the migratory Cliff Swallows, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, have been swarming around the Science II building on campus here at CSU-Fresno, and with classes ending a few days ago, I’ve enjoyed a few relaxing moments watching these little birds go about their breeding business – they’ve been building nests at various locations on the building. A couple of days ago I got an email from a colleague who works in the building expressing concern that the nests might be blasted off by the campus Plant Ops, using high-pressure water hoses – which is what they apparently did last year. I had noticed with some annoyance that they had put up netting to make most eaves and overhangs in the building (which is relatively new) inaccessible to birds, but wasn’t aware that nests had been removed. I’m not sure when they did this, but hope it was after the birds were done nesting (otherwise there may be legal issues because Cliff Swallows are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act). I’m now trying to find out what the rationale is behind the concerted effort to prevent these birds from nesting on campus buildings, and hope there is room to change course towards better coexistence and reconciliation with these lovely birds.

I have a bigger problem, however, with the American culture of intolerance towards even such innocuous wildlife inhabiting what people think of as exclusively human habitats.

Having grown up in a house which was seldom free of nesting sparrows, mynahs, crows, or geckos (among other critters), I guess I simply don’t get what the big deal is if a few swallows build mud nests on the outsides of buildings! I mean, back in India, people generally don’t bat an eyelash even when we have house sparrows nesting literally inside our homes – even in tiny apartments in Mumbai; I remember having to watch my step around my sister’s apartment a few years ago to avoid squashing fledgling sparrows that were running around being fed by their parents! Something like that would probably be unthinkable to many of my American friends. Yet, this is a country with perhaps the largest household pet market in the world, certainly one where more money is spent on keeping pets happy and indulged than anywhere else on the planet! Yet the sight of a small mud nest, which is actually a marvel of engineering if you pause to look at it, stuck to the outsides of houses by tiny birds (who eat a lot of insects which also we don’t like around our houses) is enough to make people spend even more money on power-hoses, nets, etc. to get rid of them! Cognitive dissonance in this culture’s biophilia, somewhere?

Anyway, this weekend, I managed to get some decent photographs of the swallows (click on above image to access the entire image gallery) and counted some 15 nests in various stages of construction. I also saw a fair amount of courtship activity and even one quick copulation within a completed nest (paparazzi photo here). And I also detected a couple of other threats the birds may be worried about!

I found a House Sparrow – known usurper of nests – checking out several near-complete nests:


And watched several individuals steal fresh mud from neighbor’s nests to add to their own nests whenever they got the chance! The following images sequence is from one such act of theft – but I wish I’d brought a video camera to capture the behavior!

This bird first snuck into its neighbor’s nest:


quickly grabbed some of the wet mud:


damaging the neighbor’s nest in the process (note the chunk of mud falling off the nest rim):


before sneaking back to pack the stolen mud into its own nest!


To end on a positive note: I found that several large sections of netting which had blocked off parts of the buildings to the birds had been pushed aside, and several birds were already nesting behind the (now open) netting! I’m not sure if this was due to the netting falling apart on its own, or done deliberately by some bird-lover if not Plant Ops to let the birds nest. While that last option may seem unlikely, I hope, at least, that they won’t come back to try and fix the netting right away. In the meantime, if you are at CSUF, do drop by the Science II building to enjoy the spectacle put on by these wonderful birds.

Framing Global Warming @ Café Scientifique tonight

Just a quick reminder that tonight we have another meeting of the Central Valley Café Scientifique:

How the News Media Frame Global Warming: A Harbinger of Human Extinction or Endless Summer Fun?

Dr. Andrew Jones, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, CSU-Fresno

Monday, May 5, 2008, 6:30-8:30 PM @ Lucy’s Lair.

Read more about it on the cafe website, and please join us for another fun evening!